Can the Mets compete with Tim Byrdak’s workload?

In his last 10 games Tim Byrdak has faced 11 batters. He has done an outstanding job, retiring 10 of the 11 batters and the only one to reach base drew a walk. Byrdak is a lefty specialist and manager Terry Collins is maximizing his use in that very role. Last year Collins did an outstanding job getting Byrdak to face a LHB in 65% of his PA. This year he is on a similar pace, facing a lefty 62 percent of the time.

Byrdak’s recent stretch illustrates the strengths and weaknesses of carrying a LOOGY. The great news is that he’s done his job very well. On the flip side, Byrdak is so limited in what he can do, and the rest of the bullpen is so in need of help, one could make the argument that the 2012 Mets would be better served by carrying a real pitcher instead of a lefty specialist.

Right now Byrdak is on pace to appear in 93 games. Earlier, Collins joked,

”In our case at this particular moment, Byrdak would be dead by July.”

Collins knows that he can’t keep using Byrdak nearly every day. He also knows that he has limited use versus RHB, so what is he to do? Overall in 2012 Byrdak has appeared in 23 games and has 11.1 IP. Here is the complete list of pitchers in baseball history with 50 appearances to have twice as many games as innings:

Player Year IP Games ERA+
Randy Choate 2011 24.2 54 217
Jesse Orosco 2002 27.0 56 128
Tony Fossas 1992 29.2 60 175
Mike Myers 2006 30.2 62 142
Jesse Orosco 1999 32.0 65 88

Obviously, these were all southpaws. Three of these teams finished under .500 and the other two won over 90 games thanks to a strong bullpen anchored by a dominant closer combined with above-average, innings-eating set-up men. Orosco’s 2002 Dodgers team won 92 games, thanks to Jonathan Broxton’s 52 saves and 167.2 IP from Paul Quantrill (141 ERA+) and Giovanni Carrara (116 ERA+).

Myers’ 2006 Yankees won 97 games and had Mariano Rivera with 34 Saves and a 252 ERA+. He was backed by Scott Proctor who threw 102.1 IP with a 129 ERA+.

Meanwhile the 2012 Mets have Frank Francisco, who no one considers a dominant closer, someone unlikely to throw 75 IP in 63 games like 2006 Rivera did. Bobby Parnell currently has a 184 ERA+ (the only reliever to throw significant innings to be over 100) but he is only on pace for 73 IP.

If the Mets are going to keep maximizing Byrdak by limiting his exposure to one batter a game, they absolutely have to get much better performances from the rest of their relievers to make the strategy work.

Ramon Ramirez and Manny Acosta are capable of much better than they have produced in 2012. The Mets are going to need them to turn things around ASAP and pitch like they did in 2010 and 2011 if they have any hopes of competing while carrying a guy with Byrdak’s workload. And while his performances recently have been quite good, Byrdak has a 117 ERA+, worse than four of the five players on the above list.

How on earth will Mets replace Tim Byrdak’s 37.2 IP?

Lefty reliever Tim Byrdak underwent successful arthroscopic knee surgery to repair his torn meniscus and will be out for a minimum of six weeks. Last season, his first year with the Mets, Byrdak posted a 3.82 ERA and a 1.407 WHIP. That performance so overwhelmed the team’s brass that they rushed out and signed the 38 year old to a contract for 2012. Now the team is scrambling to find his replacement.

Let’s get one thing stated up front – Byrdak’s performance last year was nothing special and it was amassed in a trivial amount of innings. The average ERA for an NL pitcher last year was 3.81 and it was 3.59 for league relievers. So from a quality standpoint, we are talking about a below-average reliever. Then you add in that he pitched just 37.2 innings, which equals 2.6 percent of the Mets’ 1448 IP, and you see what an insignificant loss this is. Last year Byrdak had a bWAR of 0.2, meaning he was essentially a replacement-level pitcher.

To make matters worse, what success Byrdak did enjoy last year was a direct result of how Terry Collins utilized him. Byrdak’s role was lefty specialist, the guy brought on to get out the tough lefty batters. But there are only a handful of players that managers will not pinch-hit for in these circumstances, which means that your lefty specialist will frequently face as many RHB as he will LHB. After misusing him early in the season, Collins reversed course and did a fabulous job limiting Byrdak’s exposure to RHB. For the season, Byrdak had 65 percent of his plate appearances versus a lefty.

Now, that might not jump out at you, but that is an outstanding job of managing your LOOGY. I sense that some of you still don’t believe how amazing this is, so let’s run some numbers. Here are the other LOOGY relievers in the NL East. I did not include Jonny Venters, who was more of an 8th inning man than a true lefty specialist. Here are their percentage of PAs versus LHB, followed by the raw numbers:

Tim Byrdak 65% 110-168
George Sherrill 54% 81-149
Michael Dunn 45% 121-267
Sean Burnett 44% 106-242
Antonio Bastardo 35% 79-225
Eric O’Flaherty 31% 93-208

It should be noted that Bastardo’s numbers are skewed somewhat, as he spent time last year as the Phillies’ closer, so if you want to throw him out of the mix that is fine. Still, when you enjoy an 11 percent edge over your closest competitor – that’s a pretty significant difference. I’m sure O’Flaherty wishes he faced twice as many lefty batters as he ultimately did.

Byrdak limited LHB to a .604 OPS last year, while RHB knocked him around to the tune of an .857 OPS against, which is actually better than his .884 lifetime mark allowed to righties. So, again let’s restate this for emphasis: Byrdak’s success last year was due to Collins. We could pluck any lefty reliever off the street and if he got to face a LHB 65 percent of the time, he would come close to matching Byrdak’s performance in 2011.

For our random guy off the street, let’s use Danny Herrera, since he has the advantage of being in the Mets’ system already. In his career in the majors, Herrera has a .949 OPS versus RHB and a .588 OPS versus LHB. The problem is that Herrera has faced a RHB 56 percent of the time, which has led to a 3.72 ERA (still better than Byrdak’s 2011 numbers with the Mets). But what would happen if he faced LHB 65 percent of the time, rather than 44 percent of the time? His numbers would drop significantly. Last year with the Mets, Herrera had a 1.13 ERA and a 1.125 WHIP.

That fact made the decision to spend anything more than minimum wage on a LOOGY so puzzling for the cash-strapped Mets this offseason.

The Mets currently have several LHP in camp who can fill Byrdak’s spot and are negotiating to bring in C.J. Nitkowski, a deal that may already be done by the time you read this. This is the same Nitkowski who is 39 years old and who has not pitched in the majors since 2005. Can you imagine any other spot on a baseball roster where a guy who hasn’t played in the majors in six-plus years is a viable alternative?

I wish Byrdak a speedy recovery from his injury. He seems to be a good guy and I thoroughly enjoyed his Hulk Hogan imitation earlier in camp. But as a ballplayer on my favorite team, his absence will not make one bit of difference. I am perfectly fine with Herrera or Robert Carson or Josh Edgin or Garrett Olson taking his spot. I’m even okay with using a RHP in his absence. In his two years with the Mets, Manny Acosta has limited LHB to a .217 AVG (27-124).

Considering that outside of R.A. Dickey, no starter on the Mets is likely to go seven-plus innings on a regular basis, the Mets would be better served by taking the best relievers, rather than the ones who throw with their left hand. If one of the lefties steps up – that is great. But if, say, Pedro Beato has a great camp, bring him as Byrdak’s replacement. I would rather have a pitcher who could throw 70 innings and face LHB and RHB than a guy who has to be micro managed and throw fewer than 40 innings.

Tim Byrdak is Alderson’s Tripod Ladder System

When you are struggling to make ends meet, you don’t shop at Sky Mall. When you’re worried that they are going to turn off your power, you don’t go out and buy a Tripod Ladder System for $299.00, no matter how cool it seems. Which brings us to the Mets signing Tim Byrdak for 2012.

Last year the Mets signed Byrdak to a $900,000 + incentives deal for 2011 and Byrdak has had a better season than there was any right to expect. Here are Byrdak’s “Dollars Earned” values for 2008-2010, according to FanGraphs, with all figures in millions:

2008 – (-$2.7)
2009 – (-$3.0)
2010 – (-$0.5)

In the three previous seasons, Byrdak put up stats which essentially cost his team $6 million. With that as our backdrop, Byrdak has earned $1.8 million for the Mets in 2011. So, I think it is fair to say that Byrdak exceeded expectations this season.

One of the hallmarks of the Omar Minaya regime was that if a low-cost veteran came out and put up a nice year, Minaya would re-sign him the next year for a hefty raise. And almost without fail, the veteran who put up an unexpectedly good season would revert to form the following year, with the Mets stuck both with his lousy production and bloated salary. Here are three examples:

Jose Valentin put up the following OPS+ numbers before joining the Mets: 100, 92, 60. He signed with the Mets and put up a 109 OPS+ at age 36 and was rewarded with a salary 4.5X bigger the following season when his OPS+ fell to 75 and he was done in the majors.

Damion Easley put up the following OPS+ numbers before joining the Mets: 106, 95, 85. He signed with the Mets and put up a 113 OPS+ at age 37 and was rewarded with a modest salary increase. The next year his OPS+ fell to 82 and he was done in the majors.

Fernando Tatis amassed 64 PA in the majors combined in four seasons before joining the Mets. He signed for presumably a minimum-wage type contract and put up a 123 OPS+ at age 33. The Mets re-signed him to a $1.7 million contract, in the neighborhood of four times what they paid him the previous year, and his OPS+ dropped to 106 and then 60 the following year and he was done in the majors.

We don’t know yet how much Sandy Alderson gave Byrdak for 2012, although we can be pretty sure he won’t be getting a pay cut. Let’s give him a modest raise and assume that the Mets are on the hook for $1.3 million with Byrdak next year. It’s not a lot of money in the overall scheme of things but why waste money that you don’t have, especially when you’re trying to retain Jose Reyes?

In four of the last six seasons, Byrdak has posted a negative fWAR. The only year he was above replacement value was in 2007 (0.6 fWAR) and 2011 (0.4). In those two seasons there were two things that helped Byrdak to a good year and both of those things had more to do with luck than skill.

First up was that he had a depressed HR rate in both years. In 2007, Byrdak had a 6.5 HR/FB rate and this year it is 8.1 percent. The second thing in common in his good years is success versus RHB out of line with his career marks. Byrdak has a lifetime .879 OPS allowed to RHB but in 2007 that mark was .716 and it is .799 this year.

So, the Mets are banking on the fact that Byrdak can continue to suppress his HR rate and he can continue to outperform versus righties. Also, they are assuming that Terry Collins can repeat his usage pattern, having Byrdak face LHB in 66 percent of the time. For his career, Byrdak has 703 PA versus righties and 671 versus lefties, which points out what a tremendous job Collins has done in this regard.

The Mets are also risking that Byrdak just simply doesn’t fall apart at age 38.

There are two other things that make re-signing Byrdak a head-scratcher. First is that Danny Herrera seems capable of doing everything that Byrdak can for minimum wage. Herrera has retired 20 of the 24 batters he has faced for the Mets this season. And in his career, LHB have a .207/.274/.296 slash line in 194 PA. That’s a .570 OPS versus lefties, compared to a career .661 OPS versus lefties for Byrdak, although Byrdak has compiled that mark in 671 PA.

But the biggest thing that surprises me is that a team that is pinching pennies feels like it should pay a premium for a LOOGY. Byrdak has contributed 37.1 IP for the Mets this season. The Mets as a team have thrown 1,365.0 IP so far in 2011. That’s less than three percent of the innings pitched that Byrdak nails down for the team.

You cannot argue that Byrdak pitches in important situations that outweigh his puny IP total. Leverage Index was calculated for this very purpose and Byrdak’s 1.04 pLI trails that of four of the six relievers who have pitched more innings. Byrdak is pitching in less important situations than you think. And with the Mets starters not going deep into games, they need innings from their relievers and Byrdak falls woefully short in this category.

For the 2012 Mets, Byrdak is the equivalent of the Tripod Ladder System while Herrera is your basic five-step ladder. It’s crazy for the Mets to be paying extra for something they’re not going to use all that often and which they have a perfectly acceptable substitution already on hand.

It’s the type of move we would expect from Minaya, not Alderson.

Mets Notes: DH results, Bay’s resurgence and Byrdak’s splits

The Mets lost both games of a doubleheader to the Braves on Thursday. It was the second time this year New York fell in both games of a DH to Atlanta and the third time in four tries this season it has been swept in a twin bill. The Mets are 70-73 (.490) overall this year but 2-6 (.250) in doubleheaders. Fortunately, there are no more doubleheaders on the schedule in 2011 for the club.

The Mets’ struggles with twin bills are not a recent phenomenon. Since 2008, the Mets have played 15 doubleheaders and their record is 11-19 (.367). They have won just two DH in the past four years, when they swept the Dodgers in April of 2010. The Mets have seven splits and have lost both games six times in this span.

Their high-water mark is a 3-3 record last year. Even in 2008, when the Mets won 89 games, they had a 5-7 mark in twin bills. In the past four years, the Mets have an overall record of 308-321 (.490) but their record in DH is significantly worse. I don’t care what Ernie Banks said, the Mets need to stick to single games.

BAY BASHES ON – While the Mets struggled yesterday, it was not the fault of Jason Bay. In the doubleheader, Bay went 3-6 with a homer, a walk 5 RBIs and a SB. In his last eight games, Bay is 10-28, with five extra-base hits, including 2 HR. This is what the Mets signed up for when they inked Bay to the big free agent contract following the 2009 season.

But before we start thinking that Bay is back, we should remember that he had 14-game stretch starting in late July where he went 22-53 (.415) with eight extra-base hits. He immediately followed up that hot streak with a 2-45 stretch. Now, streaky is better than terrible, so we should be grateful for this recent improvement.

Since the All-Star break, which includes both of Bay’s recent hot streaks, he has a .249/.323/.414 line. Overall this year he has a .241/.321/.368 slash output. His AVG and OBP numbers are similar – where he’s displayed improvement is with his SLG. Bay has 16 extra-base hits in the second half, including 6 HR.

There are 21 LF who qualify for the FanGraphs leaderboards. The median OPS is .760 for the group. So even the second-half Bay, who has increased his slugging considerably and upped his OPS to .737, still finds himself below average in OPS for his position.

THE FEEL-GOOD STORY OF BATISTA – The Mets picked up Miguel Batista on July 4th after he was released by the Cardinals. The 40-year-old Batista won all three of his decisions in Buffalo and was called up when rosters were expanded. He started and picked up the win on September 1st and earned his 100th career victory in the majors. Five days later, he turned in another Quality Start, as he allowed just 1 ER in 6 IP although he did not get a decision.

In addition to his 17-year career in the majors, Batista is known for his humanitarian efforts and his intellectual pursuits. He has been nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award, for his work in delivering medical supplies and stressing education throughout Latin America. Batista is also a published poet and novelist.

REYES CHASES BATTING TITLE – Jose Reyes was given the first day of Thursday’s doubleheader off but went 1-4 in the nightcap. He has a .335 AVG and is leading the National League in hitting, with a .006 edge over Ryan Braun. As recently as September 5th, Braun was in the lead but a recent 1-12 stretch for the Milwaukee star has allowed Reyes to re-claim first. With 509 PA already, Reyes has enough trips to the plate to qualify for the title. Now he just needs to maintain his lead to become the first player in Mets’ history to lead the league in batting.

BYRDAK’S SPLITS – Lefty specialist Tim Byrdak has been on a role since the All-Star break, with a 1.64 ERA and a 1.091 WHIP in his last 23 games, covering 11 IP. He’s limited LHP to a .584 OPS. Manager Terry Collins has done a very good job limiting Byrdak’s exposure to righty batters. So far this year, 96 of Byrdak’s 150 PA have come against lefties. That means Byrdak has had the platoon advantage 64 percent of the time. Most LOOGYs face about the same number of lefties and righties over the course of a season. Since Byrdak’s OPS against versus RHB is 320 points higher, Collins has done a very good job optimizing his LOOGY.

Why it’s time to sell high on Tim Byrdak

Manager Terry Collins has four guys in his bullpen that he trusts and three guys that he would prefer going to the dentist and having a root canal done with no anesthesia rather than placing those guys into a tight ballgame. Tim Byrdak is one of those guys that he trusts and unfortunately for Collins, it’s time for Sandy Alderson to trade Byrdak for anything he can get.

In the beginning of the year, Byrdak was actually one of the pitchers that had Collins reaching for the antacid tablets. But recently Byrdak has been one of the most reliable relievers on the Mets. That is exactly why it’s time to trade him. Byrdak’s hot streak is a mirage. He has benefitted from an unsustainable mix of batters faced and his results have been the product of luck rather than skill.

In his first 21 games of the season, Byrdak had a 6.00 ERA while in his last 22 appearances that number is a microscopic 1.38 over 13 IP and 55 batters faced. But the ERA is misleading. Here are some more numbers for Byrdak based on the split referenced above:

Split IP Hits Runs ER BB-IB K’s HR ERA FIP BABIP
First 21 12 13 8 8 5 16 1 6.00 3.04 .400
Last 22 13 10 5 2 6 12 2 1.38 4.74 .242

In the beginning of the season, Byrdak’s results were influenced by an inflated BABIP. Here recently, they are also influenced by the same stat, only this time in the opposite direction. While his ERA is much better recently, we see by his FIP that he was actually pitching better in the first part of the year. Byrdak had super-low BABIPs for the Astros in 2008 and 2009. But the other eight years of his major league career, his BABIP has been over .292 each season and he has a .282 lifetime mark in the category.

Lifetime, his ERA is 4.29 and his FIP is 5.03 so while we would expect his ERA to be lower, it’s a bit unrealistic to expect him to finish the year with a difference anywhere near close to the 3.36 spread he enjoys during this current stretch.

Byrdak is a LOOGY, a lefty pitcher who thrives on facing LHB. If we look at his splits this year, Byrdak has limited LHB to a .693 OPS while righties have an .807 OPS against him. This is a smaller spread than typical for Byrdak. In his career, RHB have posted an OPS 203 points higher than LHB.

Most LOOGYs end up facing very similar numbers of LHB and RHB over the course of the year. While the LOOGY’s manager tries to put him in versus only lefty hitters, the opposing manager will often pinch-hit a righty. Here are Byrdak’s L/R splits during his last 22 games:

vs LHB – 6-29 (.207), SH, SF, 4 BB
vs RHB – 4-16 (.250), SF, 3 BB (1 IBB)

He has 35 PA against LHB in this stretch and 20 versus RHB. Byrdak has been extremely fortunate to face this many lefties recently. Also, his performance against the righties he’s faced is completely out of line versus what he has done historically against RHB.

Byrdak deserves praise for how he has turned his season around by performing so well in his last 22 games. But it is important to realize that this is a hot streak by a veteran pitcher. Alderson would do well to trade Byrdak now while his value is highest. Relievers are a valuable commodity at the trade deadline and Byrdak has helped by pitching so well recently. If Alderson trades him now, he would be selling high on this particular “stock” and maximizing Byrdak’s value for the team.

While that may not make Terry Collins very happy, my guess is seeing Byrdak pitch for the Mets in August and September may not make him thrilled, either. That is unless Collins can keep Byrdak facing LHB 64 percent of the time and RHB perform significantly worse against him than they have lifetime. And that seems very unlikely.

Terry Collins fails in usage of Tim Byrdak

At best I was ambivalent about the hiring of Terry Collins as manager. But he’s done a nice job of keeping the team together after a 5-13 start which could have buried others. He’s handled the loss of three starters to the disabled list, another to the waiver wire and a starting rotation which has been frustrating, to say the least. He played a big part in shuffling through a bullpen that was dreadful early on and now has to be considered a team strength.

With the Mets playing .636 ball over their last 22 games, most objective people would have to be happy with Collins and the job he’s done.

However, there remains one glaring eye sore in the Mets universe, something that should be incredibly easy to fix.

Tim Byrdak should not be allowed to face righty batters unless absolutely necessary. I would like Collins to go to the blackboard and write that sentence 500 times.

Byrdak should not be allowed to face righty batters unless absolutely necessary.
Byrdak should not be allowed to face righty batters unless absolutely necessary.
Byrdak should not be allowed to face righty batters unless absolutely necessary.
Byrdak should not be allowed to face righty batters unless absolutely necessary.
Byrdak should not be allowed to face righty batters unless absolutely necessary.

Sunday, Collins brought Byrdak in to start the eighth inning. The Astros had the bottom of their order coming up but less important than the fact that they were Houston’s 6-7-8 hitters was the way these particular hitters swing the bat.

Jason Michaels is a righty.
Chris Johnson is a righty.
Clint Barmes is a righty.

For the love of everything good and proper, why would you bring in Byrdak to face that trio? Byrdak entered the game with an .883 OPS allowed against RHB, including a mind-boggling .467 OBP allowed. The average righty reaches base against Byrdak at the rate that Joey Votto does overall and Votto is second in the NL in OBP. Why on earth would you create a matchup where you essentially had to face Votto three times?

I know you’re going to be shocked by this, but Michaels hit a double and Johnson followed with a walk, forcing Collins to remove Byrdak from the game before a third RHB could do even more damage. The Astros scored a run in the inning, which ended up making this game a save situation. Collins had Francisco Rodriguez pitch the ninth, getting one game closer to his option-triggering games finished total of 55.

Collins was trying to avoid using Isringhausen, had already used Taylor Buchholz for two innings and watched Ryota Igarashi throw 34 pitches in Saturday’s game. But either Pat Misch or Mike O’Connor would have been a better choice, even if they don’t typically pitch in the eighth inning when the Mets have a lead.

Misch has faced seven righty batters this year and retired six of them, with the other reaching base via a walk. Lifetime RHB have a .761 OPS against him, 122 points lower than Byrdak’s total this season. O’Connor has also faced seven righties this year and has also retired six of them, with the other reaching via a HBP. His lifetime OPS against RHB is .788, nearly 100 points lower than Byrdak’s.

Both Misch and O’Connor pitched in Saturday’s game while Byrdak had not thrown since Tuesday, perhaps influencing Collins’ decision. But O’Connor had thrown just 10 pitches while Misch had delivered only four, meaning either of them should have been ready to go in back-to-back games.

Byrdak has been very effective versus lefties this year, as he’s limited LHB to a .615 OPS. But he should only be brought in when a lefty is due up. It was insane to bring him into a game when three righties were on tap. As a manager, part of your job is putting your players in a position to succeed. Collins put Byrdak in a position to fail.

Here, the fault lies with Collins, not Byrdak. As a LOOGY, Byrdak has done his job and done it well. Getting out righty batters is not his specialty and when he fails miserably versus RHB, it’s hardly surprising. Instead, the fault lies primarily with the guy who ignored the evidence and asked him to do something at which he is clearly no good.

Byrdak’s struggles against RHB is nothing new. His lifetime slash mark against righties is .289/.403/.483 in 663 PA. In two of the past three seasons, RHB have posted a .940 and 1.011 OPS against Byrdak. Quite simply, Collins ignored history and paid the predictable price for that disregard.

We can argue the merits of carrying a LOOGY on the roster. What is not up for debate is that Byrdak should never be brought on to face three consecutive righties. Collins has done a lot of good things so far this season but until he improves his usage of Byrdak, he still has a ways to go.

So, Collins needs to keep writing that sentence about Byrdak until the lesson sinks in.

Revamped Mets pen leads to 5-game win streak

One of the keys to Tuesday’s victory over the Nationals was the work of the bullpen. Mets relievers went 4.1 IP and allowed 1 ER and picked up both the win (Ryota Igarashi) and the save (Francisco Rodriguez). Considered by some to be the weak point of the team, the bullpen has been an asset since Sandy Alderson made a couple of early tweaks and SP started going a bit deeper into games, last night aside.

In 2010, National League relievers posted a 3.97 ERA. The Mets’ bullpen finished fifth in the league with a 3.59 mark. But the team had to rework its bullpen in the offseason. This year’s Opening Day roster did not feature six of the top eight relievers from a year ago, as measured by appearances. Only Rodriguez and Bobby Parnell were back from the strong group the Mets assembled in 2010.

Impressive Spring Training performances led to the inclusion of setup man Blaine Boyer and Tim Byrdak on the Opening Day roster. After camp opened, Alderson said that the bullpen decisions were going to be made on a combination of Spring results and previous history. Unfortunately, the previous history of both Boyer and Byrdak left a lot to be desired.

The first 10 games of the season, Boyer and Byrdak combined to allow 12 ER in 10.1 IP. After a particularly bad performance by Boyer, in which he allowed four runs in extra innings to pick up the loss, Alderson moved swiftly to correct a mistake and removed the guy with a 10.80 ERA. Byrdak had a 9.82 ERA at the time but managed to hold onto his spot.

Alderson later made other moves, as he placed Parnell on the disabled list and sent D.J. Carrasco to the minors. The latter move was particularly interesting, as Alderson gave Carrasco a two-year contract in the offseason. But after he allowed 6 ER in his previous 5.2 IP, it was hard to argue with the decision to send him to Buffalo. Interestingly, Carrasco will work as a starter in Triple-A. Carrasco has indicated a desire to start, but it is unclear if the move is to honor that request or to simply get him more innings to work out his early troubles.

Regardless of the reasons behind the early transactions, the end result has been a good one for the Mets. In the last 10 games, Mets relievers have posted 28 IP and allowed just 8 ER for a 2.57 ERA. The team has also played its best ball of the year in this stretch, as they are 6-4 and are currently riding a 5-game winning streak. In the winning streak, the relievers have gone 13.1 IP and allowed just 2 ER (1.35 ERA).

A new pecking order has been established in the pen. Rodriguez is still the closer, but Jason Isringhausen has ascended into the eighth-inning role, taking over for the injured and ineffective Parnell. Taylor Buchholz (1.38 ERA in 13 IP) and Pedro Beato (0.00 ERA in 11 IP) are the main bridges to the veterans at the back of the bullpen.

Dillon Gee is now a reliever on the club and Terry Collins plans to use him as a short guy, rather than using him as a mop-up man. It remains to be seen how Gee will react in this role. But he has pitched well as a starter for the Mets, giving hope that he can be an option in the seventh inning of close games and give rest to Beato and Buchholz.

Strong results over the past 10 days have lowered the bullpen’s ERA to 3.84 for the season. While there are health concerns surrounding Isringhausen and Buchholz, who combined for just 20 IP the past two seasons due to injuries, right now the bullpen has defined roles and pitchers performing at high levels. If the Mets have a lead after six innings, they have a good shot to nail down the win.

Very few fans are satisfied either with their middle relievers or how their manager uses his bullpen. Mets fans have to look no further back than to this time last year, when we were complaining bitterly about Jerry Manuel’s daily usage of Pedro Feliciano and Fernando Nieve, along with the inclusion of top prospect Jenrry Mejia in the pen.

Now, thanks to the decisive moves of Alderson, Mets fans find themselves in unaccustomed territory. As long as our relievers stay healthy (and don’t’ have to pitch 4.1 IP on a regular basis), our bullpen is well-suited to protect leads at the end of the game.

But we still don’t want to see Byrdak versus a RHB in a close game.

Byrdak, Hu next on chopping block for Mets?

Last year’s Mets roster had a bunch of questionable additions on Opening Day that it took until mid-May or later to correct. This year’s roster had fewer head-scratching selections and the new management team has been quicker to address problems.

Blaine Boyer, clearly the biggest Opening Day mistake, lasted all of 10 days. Lucas Duda was sent to the minors at the same time, a necessary move to give him much-needed ABs. Nine days after that, Brad Emaus and his .424 OPS was designated for assignment. D.J. Carrasco and his 5.91 ERA are now in the minors. Slow starters Bobby Parnell and Angel Pagan are both on the DL rather than be encouraged to play through their injuries.

As a fan, I enjoy the decisiveness of these moves. Some may think this is not giving enough time to the players to produce but I prefer the message of accountability. Right now two players should be very nervous because of their poor starts: Tim Byrdak and Chin-lung Hu.

Byrdak was the other questionable Opening Day assignment. Sure he was great in Spring Training, but his history showed a LOOGY who was about average versus LHB and not very good at all against RHB. An argument certainly could have been made that the Mets did not need a lefty specialist who would only pitch around 40 innings and be rotten every time he faced a RHB.

To make matters worse, not only is Byrdak doing as bad as expected versus righties, he is not even getting lefties out here in the early going. His splits show a 1.000 OPS allowed versus RHB and an .800 OPS allowed versus lefties.

Of course, all players have a small sample at the end of April and with Byrdak we are talking all of 6 IP. But given how management has acted quickly with other players, it feels as if Byrdak is one bad appearance from a ticket out of town.

Hu had an easy path to the Opening Day roster, as the Mets announced they wanted Ruben Tejada playing everyday in Triple-A and there was hardly anyone else in camp qualified to be a backup shortstop.

The bar is set pretty low for Hu. All anyone expects is that he is ready for a once-a-month start in place of Jose Reyes and to deliver a hit every now and then when he is used as a pinch-hitter. But Hu has failed to even clear these low expectations. He has just 1 hit in 12 PA and has a .091/.091/.091 slash line.

At the risk of jinxing him, Reyes has been off to a great start and seems to be over the injuries that plagued him the past two years. If the club barely needs someone to play SS, wouldn’t Hu’s role better served by someone who could actually be a threat as a pinch-hitter? Justin Turner seems capable of playing a few innings at SS if the need arose.

The Mets’ recent four-game winning streak has helped a lot of fans retreat from the ledges upon which they had climbed. Winning cures everything and may possibly buy everyone on the team some goodwill from not only the fans, but management as well. But both Byrdak and Hu would be advised to come through the next time they get into a game.

Predictions for the 2011 Mets

My first go round at Opening Day predictions at Mets360 did not go so well. So, I could go one of several ways:

A. Try to make “easy” predictions to make me look good in hindsight.
B. Make off the wall assertions and when one of them came true, trumpet the fact that I picked it.
C. Repeat last year’s idea of being a combination of realistic/optimistic and hope for better results.

I’m going for the third path. So, here are my 2011 predictions for the Mets:

1. Josh Thole hits at least 7 HR, which bests Felix Millan’s single-season best.
2. Ike Davis reaches 85 RBIs.
3. David Wright’s K% drops at least five points from last year’s 27.4% mark. Assuming last year’s AB total of 587, that would mean 131 (or fewer) strikeouts rather than 161.
4. Jose Reyes establishes a career-best in OBP, besting his .358 mark in 2008.
5. Angel Pagan finishes in the top 10 among full-time CF in SLG%
6. Carlos Beltran becomes the first Mets RF to play (at least) 110 games and put up (at least) a 110 OPS+ since Bobby Bonilla in 1993.
7. Mike Pelfrey pitches 200 innings for the third time in four years.
8. R.A. Dickey has an ERA of 3.75 or lower, which is lower than all of the projection systems at FanGraphs predict.
9. Jonathon Niese will top Johan’s Santana’s 17 Quality Starts from a year ago.
10. Chris Capuano makes 25 starts.
11. Chris Young has a K/9 below 6.00 compared to his 7.82 career average.
12. Francisco Rodriguez saves 35 games.
13. Blaine Boyer does not end the year with the club.
14. RHB post an OPS of at least .900 versus Tim Byrdak, who makes us long for Feliciano and even Schoeneweis.
15. The Mets will score at least 20 more runs with the bases loaded than the 97 they had last year.
What are your predictions for the 2011 season?

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With Opening Day for the Mets falling on April Fools Day, we’re playing it straight this year at Mets360. But click here if you want to see last year’s April 1st entry.

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Top 10 Spring Training stories for Mets

After four months without MLB, Spring Training is always a welcome sight. Even though the teams never have full lineups, the pitchers rarely throw at peak form and managers make moves they never would during the season – we can’t help but to look at the stats and look at things that jump out. There are always going to be people struggling and people exceeding expectations. But sometimes the surprising thing is who is doing what – and to what extent.

With that in mind, here are my Top 10 surprises in Spring Training for the Mets.

10. Tim Byrdak with 2 Saves
In 343 games in the majors, Byrdak has 3 Saves and a 4.35 ERA. While it’s surprising that he has yet to give up an earned run this Spring, it’s only 6.1 IP. Last year with the Astros he had an 11.1 scoreless innings streak and a 14.0 streak. But if you had given us five guesses before Spring Training started about who would lead the club in Saves in late March few, if any, would have said Byrdak.

9. Fernando Martinez and his .364/.481/.591 line
When the Mets signed Martinez as a 16-year old, he was a five-tool talent and everybody’s expectations were through the roof. Now after an injury-marred minor league career, most people have written him off as a starter, much less an impact major league player. So, while it was only 22 ABs, it was still very nice to see Martinez put up sparkling slash numbers.

8. Kirk Nieuwenhuis gets 32 ABs despite .094 AVG
One of the most useful things to see in Spring Training is who gets a lot of ABs. Those are the guys that the club wants to see play, usually because they are competing for a roster/starting spot. But when a minor leaguer gets that much time, it’s a clear example that the club thinks highly of him. Nieuwenhuis benefits from being a CF but that doesn’t explain this much playing time with so little production. I had him rated fifth in my top prospects ranking and it’s clear the Mets are high on him, too.

7. Taylor Buchholz approaches 2009-10 innings total
Elbow surgery, along with a back injury that landed him on the DL last year, limited Buchholz to just 12 IP the past two seasons. This Spring, Buchholz has logged 11 IP, the top total of any reliever on the staff. And to make things even better, he has yet to allow a run. Buchholz has been fortunate, as he has allowed 15 baserunners in those 11 innings, but his health and performance have been good to see.

6. Daniel Murphy not locking up 2B job despite .811 OPS
Murphy has picked up right where he left off offensively despite missing most of the 2010 season. With only Jonathon Niese being likely to deliver big ground ball numbers to the right side of the infield, it should be an easy decision to install Murphy as the regular at second base and look to replace him defensively in the late innings with a slim lead. After all, an .811 OPS would tie for the sixth-best mark among second basemen in the majors last year. After scoring just 656 runs last year, which ranked 13th in the 16-team NL, the Mets should look for offense wherever they can get it.

5. Reserve outfield production
Not many people were enthusiastic when the Mets signed Jerry Hairston and Willie Harris for backup outfield spots. Hairston had a .652 OPS in 2010 while Harris was nearly as bad with a .653 mark. But in 78 Spring ABs, the duo has combined for 28 H, 9 2B, 1 3B and 4 HR. They also have 14 R and 11 RBIs.

4. Rule 5 picks struggling
Most people expected that Brad Emaus and Pedro Beato had good shots to make the roster. But Emaus got off to a terrible start before finally getting some hits the past few days. Beato has gone the opposite route, starting off strong but really sputtering later in the Spring. Emaus still has a chance to make the team because of support for his game in the front office. But Beato seems like a long shot. And cynics will point out that the owners will recoup $50,000 if they return both players.

3. Luis Hernandez named front runner by NY Post
Although the line is blurring, mainstream outlets (yes, even the Post) still have stronger editorial standards than independent blogs. So it was a huge deal when Mike Puma’s story broke that Terry Collins wanted Hernandez to be the starter at 2B. While the Mets have termed the story premature, there seems no doubt that Collins was impressed by what he saw from Hernandez last season. It will likely come down to Emaus or Hernandez at second base and it will be interesting to see if the manager wins out over the front office. I’m rooting for the front office.

2. The return of Jason Isringhausen
Another thing no one saw coming was the signing of Isringhausen, who inked a minor league deal on February 15th. After back-to-back years with elbow surgeries, it seemed like his career was over. But Isringhausen is seemingly back at full strength and has survived pitching on back-to-back days. He’s now the leading contender to be the team’s primary setup man and is hands down the feel-good story of the Spring.

1. The domination by Chris Young
I was not in favor of the Young signing. He had pitched just 96 innings the past two years due to shoulder surgery. Even when he was healthy, Young never topped 179.1 IP in a major league season. His last good year came in 2007 and there were serious questions about his velocity. Yet somehow this Spring, Young leads the team’s starters with a 1.33 ERA in a team-high 20.1 IP. He’s been touched by the gopher ball and still has a sub-par strikeout rate (3.98 K/9) but it’s hard to argue with the results, including six shutout innings this weekend.

Mets bullpen: Analyzing NL LOOGY performance

Following up on yesterday’s piece asking if the Mets need a LOOGY, I decided that we needed to see what these lefty relievers contributed, both overall and then broken down versus LHB and RHB, to determine what others have gotten from these guys.

The first thing I did was do a Play Index search at Baseball-Reference, where I selected all lefties in the National League last year who made 80% of their appearances as relievers and who pitched in 40 games, sorted by ascending order of innings pitched.

Rk Player IP R ER BB SO ERA HR BF AB 2B 3B HBP SF BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Randy Flores 27.1 10 9 13 18 2.96 4 115 98 7 0 1 0 .224 .321 .418 .740
2 Dan Runzler 32.2 12 11 20 37 3.03 1 144 119 5 1 1 0 .244 .357 .328 .685
3 Zach Braddock 33.2 11 11 19 41 2.94 1 151 127 9 0 2 2 .228 .333 .323 .656
4 Joe Thatcher 35.0 5 5 7 45 1.29 1 137 124 3 0 1 2 .185 .231 .234 .465
5 Trever Miller 36.0 17 16 16 22 4.00 2 151 129 3 1 2 2 .233 .322 .318 .640
6 George Sherrill 36.1 28 27 24 25 6.69 4 180 148 12 2 1 2 .311 .406 .500 .906
7 J.C. Romero 36.2 17 15 29 28 3.68 3 171 135 3 0 5 0 .222 .379 .311 .690
8 Dennys Reyes 38.0 15 15 21 25 3.55 2 163 137 6 0 2 1 .248 .354 .336 .690
9 Gustavo Chacin 38.1 22 20 20 31 4.70 3 186 162 9 0 0 1 .315 .388 .426 .814
10 Tim Byrdak 38.2 15 15 20 29 3.49 4 170 147 9 2 0 3 .272 .353 .442 .795
11 Doug Slaten 40.2 18 14 19 36 3.10 2 174 151 5 0 4 0 .225 .328 .298 .626
12 Eric O’Flaherty 44.0 14 12 18 36 2.45 2 181 161 9 1 1 0 .230 .311 .335 .647
13 Joe Beimel 45.0 18 17 15 21 3.40 5 188 171 9 1 0 1 .269 .326 .421 .747
14 James Russell 49.0 37 27 11 42 4.96 11 219 197 8 1 4 4 .279 .324 .497 .822
15 Jeremy Affeldt 50.0 25 23 24 44 4.14 4 228 193 11 1 3 1 .290 .376 .420 .795
16 Arthur Rhodes 55.0 14 14 18 50 2.29 4 217 194 10 0 1 2 .196 .265 .309 .574
17 Javier Lopez 57.2 17 15 20 38 2.34 2 235 210 11 1 2 2 .238 .308 .329 .636
18 Hong-Chih Kuo 60.0 8 8 18 73 1.20 1 229 208 6 1 1 1 .139 .211 .192 .403
19 Pedro Feliciano 62.2 24 23 30 56 3.30 1 280 242 12 0 6 0 .273 .367 .335 .702
20 Sean Burnett 63.0 17 15 20 62 2.14 3 261 236 9 0 1 0 .220 .284 .297 .581
21 Billy Wagner 69.1 14 11 22 104 1.43 5 268 239 6 1 3 1 .159 .238 .255 .493
22 Sean Marshall 74.2 25 22 25 90 2.65 3 307 276 11 1 2 2 .210 .279 .290 .569
23 Jonny Venters 83.0 30 18 39 93 1.95 1 350 299 8 0 8 1 .204 .311 .241 .552
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 3/20/2011.

Clearly, not all of these guys are LOOGYs but where do you draw the line? Wagner certainly isn’t one but after that it gets tricky. Kuo and Venters probably aren’t specialists, either. Ultimately, I decided to just leave everyone in and include the data, so if you really object to Wagner and others being included, you can do the calculations without them to check the numbers that you get.

With everyone included, I came up with a .235/.317/.334 average pitching line overall for our lefties. Since this was inspired by Byrdak, we should point out that he had a .272/.353/.442 line last year. While the average lefty had a .651 OPS, Byrdak had a .795 OPS.

Now let’s see how they did versus LHB and RHB. Unfortunately, the Play Index does not let you sort this way. So, I went through each of our 23 pitchers and copied down their splits by hand, resulting in the following numbers:

BA v L OBP v L SLG v L BA v R OBP v R SLG v R
Flores .295 .380 .508 .246 .328 .474
Runzler .260 .339 .360 .232 .369 .304
Braddock .151 .270 .170 .284 .379 .432
Thatcher .197 .239 .288 .172 .222 .172
Miller .203 .294 .257 .273 .359 .400
Sherrill .192 .286 .288 .427 .516 .707
Romero .217 .323 .277 .231 .452 .365
Reyes .307 .409 .453 .177 .288 .194
Chacin .323 .403 .387 .310 .384 .450
Byrdak .213 .271 .373 .333 .435 .514
Slaten .151 .235 .151 .295 .409 .436
O’Flaherty .231 .277 .321 .229 .340 .349
Beimel .221 .275 .379 .329 .388 .474
Russell .238 .276 .450 .308 .357 .530
Affeldt .290 .395 .420 .290 .364 .419
Rhodes .214 .230 .393 .182 .289 .245
Lopez .162 .250 .242 .306 .361 .405
Kuo .095 .159 .111 .159 .233 .228
Feliciano .211 .297 .276 .336 .436 .395
Burnett .273 .327 .384 .182 .253 .234
Wagner .071 .175 .071 .186 .257 .311
Marshall .196 .255 .284 .218 .292 .293
Venters .198 .310 .260 .207 .312 .232

This was a lot of work by itself, so I did not expand to include the numbers necessary to figure out averages of the sample for our slash line numbers. Instead, let’s use the median, which is the middle number for each category in our sample. Since we have 23 players, whichever one is 12th in our sorted list would be the median, meaning 11 pitchers finished with a number better and 11 pitchers finished with a worse number.

The median slash line for our lefties works out to:

vs. LHB — .213/.277/.288
vs. RHB — .246/.359/.395

Byrdak was almost perfectly in the middle of our sample versus lefties in AVG (.213) and OBP (.271). But he was significantly worse in SLG (.373). Versus righties he was significantly worse across the board (.333/.435/.514).

There’s a reason he was available on a minor league deal prior to this season.

Now, let’s see how some Mets relievers fared last year in the same left/right splits that we used for our lefty relievers:

BA v L OBP v L SLG v L BA v R OBP v R SLG v R
Manny Acosta .163 .217 .256 .245 .345 .362
Taylor Buchholz .250 .250 .500 .227 .393 .455
D.J. Carrasco .260 .333 .375 .227 .324 .337
Bobby Parnell .327 .364 .442 .276 .315 .299

We know that Byrdak faced just as many RHB as LHB last year. Given that the differences in batters faced by left/right split for most LOOGYs is a similar rate, how many of the above pitchers would you prefer to see over Byrdak? I would suggest all of them, especially when you consider how high Parnell’s BABIP (.374) was last year.

Managers today do everything to minimize criticism. That means setting up roles for everyone and then no one can blame the manager when something goes awry. So, if a LHB, let’s call him Chase Utley, has no discernible split between LHP and RHP, you still bring in your LOOGY and if Utley gets a hit, it’s certainly not the manager’s fault.

Having a LOOGY on the staff is convention, it makes certain decisions automatic and it shields managers from criticism. No wonder every team has one. And it’s one thing if your LOOGY is really good. But when you have Byrdak, who by his slash lines was below-average for LOOGYs versus lefties and horrible versus righties last year and is now age 37, does it make sense to carry him over a better righty?

There was much made over the new Mets front office and how they were going to do things in a smart way. If Byrdak is kept over one of the four relievers listed above, I think it is right to question the decision and all people who had a hand in it.

Tim Byrdak is pitching great but do Mets need him?

Another day, another scoreless inning for Tim Byrdak. So far this Spring, Byrdak has appeared in five games and has 5.1 scoreless IP. Yesterday he even picked up the save, although save chances will probably be non-existent for whoever earns the LOOGY job out of the Mets pen.

Byrdak signed a minor league contract with the Mets in January and now has to be considered the favorite to be the lefty specialist for the Mets. In addition to his solid Spring, he has a long history of getting out LHB in the majors as a reliever, something neither of his other rivals for the position – Mike O’Connor and Oliver Perez – truly have.

The 37-year-old Byrdak made his major league debut in 1998 and has pitched for four different clubs in the Show. Last year he toiled for Houston and in 64 appearances he had just 38.2 IP, giving a pretty solid indication how the Astros used him.

Last year versus LHB, Byrdak had a .213/.271/.373 line over 85 PA. In that span he allowed 7 BB and struck out 19. Conveniently, Brydak also had 85 PA versus RHB last year and let’s just say he did not fare quite so well. Against righties he had a .306/.383/.458 line, with 9 BB and 11 Ks.

In his career, Byrdak has an .886 OPS allowed to RHB compared to a .677 mark against LHB, so last year was not an aberration. Basically, Byrdak should not be allowed to face a RHB if the game is close. Mets fans are familiar with this type of pitcher; he’s Scott Schoeneweis in a different body.

It all comes down to how badly you think the Mets should have a LOOGY on their roster. Byrdak can be very effective in the role as long as you remember that righties are his Kryptonite. While he would be extremely useful versus Ryan Howard, do the Mets really need a pitcher who under the best of circumstances will pitch fewer than 40 innings and stink in half of them, the ones where he races RHB?

The Mets have many relievers having a good Spring and could put together a bullpen without a traditional lefty specialist. Francisco Rodriguez, Jason Isringhausen, Bobby Parnell, Manny Acosta, Taylor Buchholz, Pedro Beato and D.J. Carrasco could be one configuration. That still leaves Pat Misch out in the cold, who while he throws with his left hand does not have any special ability to retire lefty batters.

Byrdak has had a fine Spring and no one should be surprised if he ends up making the roster. But the new front office may not be married to the thought that a team *has* to have a LOOGY in the pen. A creative solution might be to have Byrdak (or O’Connor) ride the shuttle between New York and Buffalo, coming up to the majors only when the Mets take on a team like the Phillies with multiple dangerous LHB who are not switch-hitters.